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Photographer Trupal Pandya Captures The Culture Of Himalaya’s Brokpas Tribe

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History says that shortly after conquering Persia and further expanding its immense kingdom, the Macedonian king, Alexander the Great, had his sights set on India and made his way to the country. He advanced into the Punjab, where he defeated King Porus in 326 BC. It is said that around this time a group of the king’s soldiers got lost and eventually settled in the fertile northern mountains, becoming the Brokpas tribe. The Brokpas settled in the villages of Dha, Hanu, Darchik and Garkon, nearly 130 km northeast of Kargil, on the Line of Control on the Indo-Pakistan border. They had maintained their isolation for thousands of years, until 1999, when the Indian army began to build roads in this area, due to the Kargil War.

The Brokpas have kept genetic pollution at bay and claim they are intact. However, the tribe has culturally transformed over the ages under the influence of the surrounding territory. This series of photographs was their first real exposure to modernization. Their blend of ideology, amplified by genetic and geographic isolation, has helped produce a unique culture. Their current religion is a mixture of animalism, shamanism and Buddhism, which has formed a beautiful display of dressing and grooming rituals that incorporate flowers, metal jewelry, as well as skin and hair from animals. While the Brokpas only recently opened up to the modern world, they welcomed photographer Trupal Pandya to their community and let him capture their unique high mountain life. “Buried in historical documents, taught in classrooms around the world or explored in documentaries; these types of tribes have long been a topic of global interest. As a documentary photographer, I was thrilled with the opportunity to capture a Himalayan tribe who claim to be the descendants of Alexander the Great, ”Pandya said.

Trupal Pandya is a photographer who blurs the lines between portraiture, fine art and documentary photography. Pandya launched her career working with some of the biggest names in the business. He attended the prestigious Eddie Adams Workshop and was interned with Magnum photographer Steve McCurry, well known for his iconic “Afghan Girl” photo. He is one of the few Indian photographers to have worked with National Geographic, CNN, Huffington Post and with the United Nations on a special mission to photograph refugee camps in Iraq. Pandya travels to different continents and spends close and intimate times with the tribes and locals, respectfully immersing herself in their lives and documenting their clothing, habits and culture. His portfolio includes photos of the Huaorani community of the Amazon rainforest, the last surviving headhunters of Nagaland, the Aghoris and tribes of Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. But Pandya’s remarkable work in the mountains of India has undoubtedly been her documentation of the Brokpas – the ancient secret tribe of the Himalayas. Pandya describes in detail a selection of her photos.

“The Brokpas have different headdresses for different occasions. On a normal day, the tribe will adorn a single flower. In this photo, he is wearing a Chinese lantern flower, a resilient species found in the area ”
“They believe the special ribbons they wear prevent minor illnesses caused by the sun or an eclipse. The coins also have medical property. They believe that the reaction caused by the contact of the metal with the skin and sweat helps them medically ”
“The Brokpas live in the villages of Dha, Hanu, Darchik and Garkon. The treacherous location and isolation of the village has allowed the tribe to live in isolation for thousands of years. As you can see in this image, some of these villages are still inaccessible by vehicle ”
The Brokpas practice Buddhism and believe in a cycle of death and rebirth called samsara. Through karma and eventual enlightenment, they hope to escape samsara and achieve nirvana, the end of suffering.
“The accessories they wear are mostly metal jewelry which they believe ward off evil spirits and protect them. Flowers and feathers also serve the same purpose, but are also seen as a symbol of unity and respect “
“One thing I do is focus on change, and how cultures and people change and adapt with time and modernization, especially remote tribes like this. It’s not that I’m someone to judge, but I’m just someone who wants to document these changes. A very big indicator of this in the Brokpas is that some men have now started to wear synthetic fake flowers. It is strongly symbolic of changing times ”
“Brokpa men are known to climb steep hills and travel long distances to pick certain flowers to give to women.”
“They are very strict and protective about their lineage, but are a very welcoming community. It is a happy tribe. I was welcomed and surrounded by a feeling of love and prosperity ”
“The Brokpas have no written history and their culture is passed down in the form of songs. I visited an interesting house in Brokpa, where the basement had been converted into a museum to display important artifacts. The Brokpa pictured here is a singer and believes in preserving his unique culture by singing and running the museum ”
“The clothes of the Brokpas are usually made from animals to save them from the cold. The skin of animals is beaten for long periods of time until they can be used as clothing ”

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